Monday, April 21, 2008

Using Oracle for generating ideas - Azara Feroz Sayed

Came across the summary of the book A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech. This was one of the book apart from Bono's that Feroz recommended me for creativity. It is a fun book to read with lots of humor and quiz to make you think creatively - How do you keep a fish from smelling? The answer is embeded in this post. My earlier post on metaphors for life was based on this book about using metaphors for creating perspective. The last two chapters in the book are brilliant - the epigrams of Heraculitis is a must read!

I could relate to the thought mentioned about a creative person with Feroz's creativity, excitement to know-it-all and attributing his creativity to his association with Farukh Mamu's creative work The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, flower arranging. He never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later or six years down the road. But the creative person has faith that it will happen. Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different. The key to being creative lies in what we do with our knowledge. By changing perspective and playing with our knowledge we can make the ordinary extraordinary. It is all about setting the mental channel, after you buy your new car, you see that make everywhere. Make it a point to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used sucessfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaption to the problem you are currently working on.

I should mention this anecdote to drive how a creative person sees what everyone see but thinks differently. I watched Patriot movie with Feroz and never thought about qualities of leadership. Feroz used the clipping of the movie in the training session he conducted for our neighbour's staff, a couple of weeks later. He played the clip where Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) and his men return to see their family mercilessly killed by the British. He asked the participants to think what a leader should do at such times - Benjamin Martin in the movie asks his men to go and take care of their family!

One of the tool mentioned in the book as part of generating ideas is using an Oracle. One of the Oracle's best known prophecies came in the year 480 B.C. The persians under Xerces invaded Greek. The Athenian city-fathers were concerned as to which course of action they should take against the oncoming Persians. They realized, however, that before any decision could be made, they should send supplicants to Delphi to get a reading from the oracle. The supplicants received the prophecy : The wooden wall will save you and your children. The city-fathers thought over what the prophecy meant. Someone suggested build a wooden wall on the Acropolis and take a defensive stand behind it. The city-fathers tried to think of all the contexts - both literal and metaphorical - in which the words would make sense. Could the "wooden wall" be the result of all the Athenian wooden-hulled ships lined up next to each other. From a distance the ships would indeed look like a wooden wall. The city-fathers decided, therefore, that the battle should be a naval one rather than a land one.

The book mentions about using our own ideas for creating such props (oracles) to generate ideas.

Refer Roger's blog to know more about another prop (Indian's map) similar to the oracle used by the Athenians to generate random ideas and to consult our deeper wisdom and intuition to consider alternatives.

The blog below mentions about one such prop used by the group

The summary that was the motivation for this post,ideas
The book begins with 10 myths (“mental blocks”) stopping us from being creative. The best way to opening the mental locks is to be aware of them and then temporarily
forget them when trying to generate new ideas.
1. The right answer. Our education system teaches us to look for the one right answer. Trouble is, in business, as in life, there are often several right answers. “Many of us,” says von Oech, “have a tendency to stop looking for alternative right answers after the first right answer has been found. This is unfortunate because often it’s the second, or third, or tenth right answer which is what we need to solve a problem in an innovative way.”. If you have only one idea, you have only one course of action open to you, and this is quiet risky in a world where flexibility is requirement for survival. Also with one idea, you don't have anything to compare it to. The best way to get a good idea is to have lot of ideas.
Tip: Ask questions that solicit multiple answers. Change question's wordings

2.That’s not logical. Logic is great at the implementation phase of an idea, but when you are searching and playing with ideas, excessive logic can short-circuit your creative process. Our educational system doesn't provides scope for Soft thinking (imaginitive thinking) all the attention is on hard thinking (focus on implementation during thinking). Like in the question, "How do you stop the fish from smelling?" a soft thinking answer would be seal the fish's nose!
Tip: Try some “soft thinking”. Ask “what if?”, “why not?”, "what rules can we break?”, “what assumptions can we drop?”, “how about we look at this backwards?”

3. Follow the rules. Most organisations have rules that were once sensible but are now obsolete. We tend not to challenge them because “that’s how it’s always been”. Breaking the rules won’t necessarily lead to creative thinking, but it’s one avenue. If you don't ask why this? often enough somebody will ask ehy you? Creative thinking may simply mean the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done. Many rules outlive the purpose for which they were intended. Don't fall in love withan idea if you do you will want to use it everywhere.
Tip: Have rule-inspecting and rule-discarding sessions within your organisation.

4. Be practical. Most people have a natural tendency to be critical of new ideas and focus on why they won’t work. The amount a person uses her imagination is inversely proportional to the amount of punishment she will receive for using it. Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist after growing up.
Tip: Try evaluating a new idea, not on its practical merits, but as a provocative stepping stone to come up with other ideas, some of which might eventually work.

5. Play is frivolous. Some good ideas emerge from necessity or deadline pressure. Just as many come over a boozy lunch, or when you aren’t thinking about the problem too seriously. A playful attitude is fundamental to creativity. We generate most of our new ideas while playing in our mental playground. That's becuase our defenses are down, our mental locks are loosened and there is little concern about rules, practicality or being wrong.
Tip: Introduce humour or wackiness into a meeting to stimulate the flow of ideas. Make your workplace a fun place to be.

6. That’s not my area. Many exciting ideas have come from transferring knowledge from one area into another. But most people don’t consult colleagues in other disciplines to get answers to problems. The more specialised you are, the less likely you are to explore other fields. Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in museum. The creative person looks for history and fashion in airport.
Tip: Develop the outlook that wherever you go and whoever you talk to, there are ideas waiting to be discovered.

7. Avoid ambiguity. Many cultures use the concept of an “oracle” to take advantage of our ability to make sense out of ambiguous situations. The oracle gives its pronouncements in an ambiguous way, and leaves its hearers to come up with a creative interpretation. Trouble is, these days we tend to avoid ambiguity, seeing it as a potential cause of communication problems and time wasting.
Tip: If you are giving someone a problem that has the potential to be solved in a creative way, try, at least initially, to pose it in an ambiguous way, so as not to restrict their imagination.

8. Don’t be foolish. The classical “fool” was an antidote to the yes-men surrounding the king. His role was to parody the common view on an issue and force the king to re-examine his assumptions and entertain alternative ideas. Reverse your viewpoint. You can't see the good ideas behind you by looking twice as hard at what's in front of you.
Tip: If you are in a rut about a problem, try freeing up your thinking by taking the contrary position or disagreeing with the common sense view.

9. To err is wrong. From an early stage we are rewarded for the right answer and punished for the wrong one. We learn to keep mistakes to a minimum. Actually there are two benefits of failure: you learn what doesn’t work, and you get an opportunity to try a new approach. Use error as a stepping stone to an idea you might have not otherwise discovered.
Tip: If you aren’t making many errors, ask yourself, “How many opportunities am I missing by not being more aggressive?”

10. I’m not creative. A major oil company hired psychologists to find out why some of its engineers produced more creative product than others. The answer: the ones doing creative things thought they were creative; the others didn’t think they were.
Tip: A major factor differentiating creative people from the rest is that they believe their small ideas could lead to something bigger and build on these ideas. Do it.


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